International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial body of the UN. Established in 1946 to replace the Permanent Court of International Justice, the ICJ mainly operates under the statute of its predecessor, which is included in the UN Charter. It has two primary functions: to settle legal disputes submitted by States in accordance with established international laws, and to act as an advisory board on issues submitted to it by authorized international organizations.

Documents: Government Statements | UN Documents | Civil Society Documents | International Organization Statements

Selection Process

The Court is composed of 15 judges serving in their individual capacities. Candidates are first nominated by the national groups in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. From the list of candidates, judges are elected to nine-year terms by an absolute majority in both the General Assembly (97 votes) and Security Council (8 votes). The timing of elections is staggered so that the GA elects a third of the Court once every three years.

The ICJ statute describes qualified candidates as "persons of high moral character, who possess the qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices, or are jurisconsults of recognized competence in international law." Past judges have been law professors, diplomats, and judges.

Although the judges do not represent their nations but act as independent agents, there cannot be more than one judge of each nationality.

As a matter of practice, the Court often includes judges with the same nationality as one of the States party to a case. A State party with a case before the ICJ, when no judge of its nationality is a member of the Bench, may choose a justice to sit ad hoc on the bench.

The Current Bench

Region Judge Country Date elected* Term ends
African States Abdul G. Koroma Sierra Leone Oct 2002 Feb 2012
Mohamed Bennouna Morocco July 2005 Feb 2015
Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf Somalia Nov 2008 Feb 2018
Asian States Hisashi Owada Japan Oct 2002 Feb 2012
Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh Jordan Nov 2008 Feb 2018
Xue Hanqin China June 2010 Feb 2012
Eastern European States Peter Tomka Slovakia Oct 2002 Feb 2012
Leonid Skotnikov Russian Federation July 2005 Feb 2015
Latin American and Caribbean States Bernardo Sepúlveda-Amor Mexico July 2005 Feb 2015
Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade Brazil Nov 2008 Feb 2018
Western European and Other States Bruno Simma Germany Oct 2002 Feb 2012
Ronny Abraham France Nov 2008 Feb 2018
Kenneth Keith New Zealand July 2005 Feb 2015
Joan E. Donoghue United States Sep 2010 Feb 2015
Christopher John Greenwood United Kingdom Nov 2008 Feb 2018

*Note that the date elected is not the same as the date of taking office, which is always February 6 of the following year. Members elected to fill unexpected vacancies may be elected and enter into office at any time of year.

Recent Developments
The most recent election for judges on the Court took place during the 64th session of the General Assembly. The GA and Security Council elected the following two judges to fill the vacancies created by the resignations of Judges Shi Jiuyong and Thomas Buergenthal, respectively:

  • Ms. Xue Hanqin (China) - 150 GA votes, 15 SC votes
  • Ms. Joan Donoghue (United States) - 159 GA votes, 15 SC votes

The most recent regular voting cycle began in November 2008, resulting in the election of the following members :

  • Sir Christopher John Greenwood (United Kingdom) - 157 GA votes, 15 SC votes
  • Mr. Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade (Brazil) - 163 GA votes, 14 SC votes
  • Mr. Ronny Abraham (France) (re-elected) - 152 GA votes, 13 SC votes
  • Mr. Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh (Jordan) (re-elected) - 151 GA votes, 13 SC votes
  • Mr. Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf (Somalia) - First round: 92 GA votes, 8 SC votes; Second round: 74 GA votes, 8 SC votes

In the first round, only four candidates -- Mr. Abraham, Mr. Al-Khasawneh, Mr. Trindade, and Mr. Greenwood -- received the required majority in both the GA and the SC in the first meeting. In the second round, Mr. Yusuf was elected with the required majority of votes in the GA and SC against three other candidates for the remaining seat.

Coming Up

The terms of office of Mr. Hisashi Owada, Mr. Peter Tomka, Mr. Abdul G. Koroma, Mr. Bruno Simma and Ms. Xue Hanqin are due to expire on 5 February 2012. In the sixty-sixth session of the GA, the GA and SC will have to appoint new members to fill these five vacancies. The Secretary-General has requested that nominations from the respective regions reach him by 30 June 2011.

So far, only Italy has publicly nominated a candidate for the ICJ in 2012, Professor Giorgio Gaja.


Related UNelections Monitors:

Issue 85 - November 12 - Five Judges Elected to International Court of Justice